Do you miss the way things used to be? Does college football's
new world order make you uncomfortable? Were you startled by the
occasionally thuggish manner in which Oregon State put the wood
to Notre Dame in a 41-9 Fiesta Bowl win over the Irish?
Get used to it. The Beavers, who finished last season ranked
fourth in the nation (and racked up 18 penalties against Notre
Dame, five of them for unsportsmanlike conduct), are only getting
better. The defense will be deeper, faster and more in-your-face
than the Oregon State units that led the Pac-10 in total defense
the last two seasons. What's more, while it may take all of
September for senior quarterback Jonathan Smith to get in sync
with a new crop of receivers, that's not a huge obstacle
considering the Beavers open with Fresno State, New Mexico State
and Montana State and then have a bye week before their
conference opener, at home against UCLA.
The leading indicator of the direction in which this program is
headed comes not from the number of returning starters (five
apiece on offense and defense), or the $100,000 budgeted for the
Heisman campaign of sensational senior running back Ken Simonton,
or even the construction of a $10 million indoor practice
facility on campus. The best clue that coach Dennis Erickson's
team isn't going away anytime soon can be found among the 17
freshmen that just arrived, a handful of whom should see action
this fall. There's Josh Hawkins, an explosive and coveted wideout
from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High, who chose Oregon State over
defending national champion Oklahoma. There's Derek Anderson, a
6'6", 230-pound quarterback out of Scappoose (Ore.) High who runs
a 4.7 40 and threw for 3,603 yards and 40 touchdowns last year.
He chose the Beavers over Florida State.
Since when do blue-chip quarterbacks opt for Corvallis over
Tallahassee? Since Oregon State kicked butt in a BCS bowl last
winter. "That'll get you respect," says offensive coordinator
Tim Lappano, who tries to remain calm while describing
Anderson's upside: "He's got a gun. He throws with accuracy and
with touch. Who knows where he can take this offense?"
It isn't likely he'll be taking it anywhere this season. Smith,
the 5'10", 202-pound former walk-on who was the offensive player
of the game in that rout of Notre Dame, remains at the controls
of Erickson's spread offense. He isn't concerned that three of
his receivers--wideouts T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, plus
tight end Marty Maurer--have moved on to the NFL. Slot receiver
James Newson and junior wideout Seth Trimmer looked impressive in
spring practice. To add depth, the Beavers visited Jucos R Us,
plucking a pair of burners.
"We may not make as many big plays as we did in the passing game
last year," says Smith, "but let's face it--we're not going to
need as many. Our running game's going to be even better, and the
defense will be flying around again."
Simonton, a 5'11", 202-pound senior, will again be called upon to
get big yards without the benefit of a blocking back. Linemen in
the Beavers' single-back scheme zone block, leaving Simonton to
choose the seam through which he wants to run. "He's great at
it," says Smith. There is irony in the fact that the two most
important players on the nation's most improved team are these
sawed-off seniors. If Smith and Simonton were finishing their
high school careers, they wouldn't rate a look from arriviste
Oregon State. Erickson has spent three years needling Smith,
telling him he can't wait until he has a quarterback to look up
to. Don't believe it. "When he gets his little swagger going,
we're a dangerous unit," says Simonton of Smith. "I've come to
expect greatness from him."
The same must be said of the Beavers. We've come to expect
greatness from them.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Short in stature but big on heart, Smith has what it takes to take Oregon State to the Rose Bowl.
2000 record: 11-1 (7-1, T1 in Pac-10)
Final ranking: No. 4 AP, No. 5 coaches' poll
1,000-yard rushing seasons by Ken Simonton, who shares the
Pac-10 record with six others.
FIVE KEY RETURNEES
RB Ken Simonton [Sr.]
79 points shy of Pac-10 career scoring lead
CB Dennis Weatherby [Jr.]
First team All-Pac-10, had 13 pass breakups
QB Jonathan Smith [Sr.]
Needs 2,141 yards for school passing record
LB Richard Seigler [So.]
72 tackles, three interceptions as freshman
K Ryan Cesca [Jr.]
94 points last fall is team record for kicker
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Beavers
"First thing that comes to mind is talent. Dennis Erickson has
brought in junior college kids whom no one could get straight
out of high school.... Ken Simonton is probably the best running
back in the country. A one-back scheme is perfect for this kid
to run through, he is so powerful. His backup, Patrick McCall,
is pretty good too; they don't fall off at all when he comes
into the game.... On offense the Beavers' only concern will be
filling in the gaps on the line.... Defensively, their speed
stands out more than anything. It's the fastest defense in the
Pac-10. They have a blitzing, attacking style, and all of their
guys have the ability to make the big play.... The secondary
tends to be well coordinated and has a great cornerback in
Dennis Weathersby. He does a good job of taking away one side of
the field.... Their front seven is still strong, despite losing
the two best ends in the league. If Oregon State can fill those
two spots adequately, this year's team has a chance to be just
as tough as last year's."
Strength: 45th of 117
Sept. 2 at Fresno State
8 at New Mexico St.
15 MONTANA STATE
Oct. 6 at Washington State
20 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 at USC
Dec. 1 at Oregon
"Telling Number" compiled by David Sabino and Albert Chen